Chargers, not Indy, to be feared

Everyone is focused on the Colts offense and how much damage it can do, but the San Diego Chargers offense has proved to be potent as well. Armed with a Pro Bowl quarterback, Pro Bowl running back and Pro Bowl tight end, they should be feared.

Everyone forgets that tight end Antonio Gates is also poised to set a record of his own. The cornerback, safety or linebacker that gives up his 13th touchdown reception will go down in the record books.

So forget the Peyton Manning touchdown debate, this is about wins and losses and taking care of business.

The Chargers offense is also multi-faceted and it faces a defense that ranks in the lower half of the league. There are certainly challenges, the Colts are third in sacks and first in turnovers, but a lot of that comes from team's being twenty points down by halftime. It is a defensive end's dream to pin his ear back and just focus on rushing the passer.

The Colts have been gashed for 120 yards a game on the ground. That is incredible when you think about how often they are in the lead and how often team's must resort to the passing game.

Head coach Marty Schottenheimer will try and play his game. Run the ball and focus on ball control. The less time Manning has the ball, the less damage he can bring.

So this game boils down to what the big three can do. Not Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James, but Drew Brees, Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson.

A healthy dose of Tomlinson will be the diet of choice. Tomlinson has four straight 100-yard games and he is feeling frisky now that the Bolts have clinched the division.

"He is the catalyst for us," Schottenheimer admitted. "He is the guy that makes all the difference in the world for us. He's now finally, the last few weeks, healthy again. He is a terrific, terrific player."

"It is a big game for us," Tomlinson said. "Both teams are 11-3 – playoff atmosphere."

While the ball is steadily being delivered into his capable hands, his hope is to open things up for other players to contribute. He knows the Colts have scored at will and favors a more wide open gameplan this week. Perhaps that means Tomlinson will line up in the slot and go deep over the middle, something he did last year but a play that has been on the sidelines this time around.

His effectiveness running the ball will also open up play-action, freezing the linebackers to give Gates room to roam.

"He is a weapon for us," Tomlinson said. "We are awfully glad we were able to grab him out of Kent State."

"He has done a terrific job, and I share that feeling that the opportunity to create matchups for you is significant if you have a tight end like that and a complimentary runner that draws some attention as well," Schottenheimer added.

Gates hasn't been the factor he was earlier in the year but he is still coming up with the big play – his 72 yard touchdown as an example. For the Chargers to win, Gates must control his matchup.

The Bolts can't go to sleep and think the run is the only ploy that will work. They must pass the ball down the field and Gates will be vital.

If the Chargers get down, he may be the only receiver that can bring them back into the game.

"Gates is a really good receiver," Colts' head coach Tony Dungy said. "He's made big plays and he's made clutch plays. I don't think too many people knew about him early on, but he's still been able to maintain that and get open and catch the ball on third down and get deep and catch the ball. He's given them a go-to-guy. He's been impressive."

Stalled drives that last seven minutes aren't good enough. Besides eating up the clock, the Chargers have to put points on the board.

Schottenheimer calls the red zone the gold zone, and so far the Chargers have been cashing in. They lead the league with a .691 touchdown percentage inside their rivals' 20-yard-line.

Now the Bolts will have to score once more than the Colts on Sunday. No one cares if it is 100-96 as long as San Diego is the team with the lead in the end. After the defense has picked the Bolts up over the last few weeks, this game will come down to the Chargers' offense.


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